A projection of Luke Dale-Roberts working in the kitchen greets you as you enter the Cape Town wonder-chef’s Johannesburg venture (Luke Dale-Roberts x Saxon restaurant details). This is the sci-fi element in what is otherwise an elegant contemporary and quite down-to-earth space, with just 10 tables, and an open kitchen that offers a view of the quiet busyness of a fine dining kitchen, presided over by the Saxon hotel’s head chef Candice Philip. (Dale-Roberts regularly checks in to the restaurant and was there a few days after we visited to make some menu tweaks).
The elegance extends to the tableware and monogrammed white linen napkins, and to the gracious service extended by both the jauntily-dressed (in well-fitted patterned shirt with bowtie) wait staff and outstanding sommelier.
Choose the wine or tea pairing so you have an opportunity to spend some time with sommelier William Riffel, whose knowledge and enthusiasm and generous sharing of both adds to the experience. The superb service actually starts at the hotel’s street entrance from where the impressive-looking men at the gate inform the staff of your arrival. One of the city's premier leisure hotels, the Saxon is worth visiting for any reason.
This is fine dining at its best, a measured procession of beautifully plated dishes, eaten over many hours (you can easily leave close to midnight from a 7pm arrival, so make sure you take someone with you that you really like). Fine dining is in the details, and how these conspire – from a dot of puree on a plate, to cutlery placed on the table by a white-gloved hand (a marvel I am thinking of introducing at home) – to create a seamless luxury experience, and about creating a space in which to appreciate both these elements and enjoy what is often a rare combination of tastes.
Our waiter, the utterly charming and delightful Reuben Mokoena, was eager to share our food preferences at the start of the meal with the chef and even suggested the kitchen ‘enjoys’ the challenge of catering to today’s vegetarian-vegan-Banting-Paleo-gluten-free patrons (rather them than me).
We chose a wine pairing (options are the international pairing – dominated by white varieties from France and Italy – or local, definitely worth trying because of the excellent variety and quality of South African wines) and a tea pairing. The tea pairing is the latest menu innovation, aimed at non-tipplers and making sure you are are not feeling left out of conversations about how each drink complements the meal. (Saying that, it’s actually a fun addition to the menu).
The teas are by luxury African tea brand Yswara and accompany each main dish on the nine-course menu, served cold as wine, apart from the final main course – seared duck breast, confit duck leg and liver with figs and barbecue meringue – where the unusual and marvellous flavour of a hot mocha-infused tea cuts the richness of the dish. Blended tea flavours of pomegranate, orange, rooibos, grapefruit, marula, ginger, aniseed and buchu work in delightful combinations with the dishes.
The autumn menu is utterly satisfying, if not a little too satisfying with its hearty parcels of flavor. After a delicious round of starters, home-baked breads and feather-light toasts with a choice of delicious toppings that included a chili oil butter topped with black salt, and a caramelized onion dish with cashew nuts the procession of dishes began with a Sea Bass Ceviche with spiced hazelnut salsa, then a Lamb Scottati, ingeniously cooked in a concrete pot over burning ginger, and sliced into succulent slivers. These were my two highlights. The smoked salmon dish lacked the personality and originality of its predecessors but the bar had been set high.
Dessert was an interesting play of fennel, lime and coconut and a rice pudding with naartjie sponge, tuille and caramelized quince, which while flavoursome, created a longing for the comfort of a chocolate dessert, a personal preference.
Watching an interview with Dale-Roberts on EWN news he mentioned his vision for the restaurant was that it should be “a very special night out”, and the man who has managed to maintain the accolade of creating Africa’s best restaurant (his Cape Town Test Kitchen made it to number 22 in the world’s best restaurants rankings in 2016) has succeeded. If you have an evening to spare, a big budget and a special occasion that demands attention, this a great way to spend it. Or go with the first two and get the special occasion thrown in.
Luke Dale-Roberts x Saxon, Saxon Hotel, Villas & Spa, 36 Saxon Rd, Sandhurst, tel. +27 11 292 6000, firstname.lastname@example.org. Open Tue-Sat 18:30-23:00. Closed Sun, Mon. Reservations required
Eight course tasting menu R1300 (excluding wine). Corkage R350 per 750ml bottle.
* In Your Pocket was an invited guest of Saxon Hotel, Villas & Spa